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Video on Demand Report: Check Out Tom Hanks’s and Cate Blanchett’s Buzzy Award-Season Performances

Captain Phillips, Blue Jasmine, and All Is Lost make their way to VOD.

Captain Phillips

Captain Phillips

The Headliner

Captain Phillips

An experienced captain boards a container ship intending to lead it from Oman to Mombasa. Aware that the threat of attack from Somali pirates is both real and pressing, he runs his crew through a safety drill so that they’re prepared in the event of catastrophe. They’ve barely begun when two skiffs full of pirates start pursuing them. The pirates are armed; Captain Phillips’s ship is not.

If you’ve seen interviews with the real Captain Richard Phillips or read his book, you know how the story ends, but that doesn’t make Paul Greengrass’s directing (or Billy Ray’s Oscar-nominated screenplay) any less suspenseful or riveting. Tom Hanks is doing much harder work here than in, say, Saving Mr. Banks: He’s trying to protect his own life and the lives of his crew members by developing a rapport with his captors. And Greengrass and Ray also have the challenging job of making the pirates both terrifying and somewhat empathetic.

Captain Phillips has been nominated for five other Oscars in addition to Ray’s, including Best Supporting Actor for Barkhad Abdi, who, in his first film role, plays the pirate who’s our main entry into the story.

Wesley Morris:Captain Phillips made me think the same thing I thought about United 93: How did he do that? You could leave the latter movie wondering about why it was made, but the elusive skill of its maker is never in doubt. Captain Phillips forces the viewer to wrestle with a different kind of intent. It’s the rare movie about Western guilt that doesn’t wallow or pity”

New and Notable

Blue Jasmine

When a financial criminal is disgraced and loses everything, he leaves behind all kinds of wreckage — his investors, his disgusted children, and the wife who got used both to the lifestyle his crimes provided her and to looking the other way when she knew things weren’t right. Blue Jasmine is the story of such a wife. And it’s a comedy!

Cate Blanchett has already won a Golden Globe and an SAG award for her performance as Jasmine and is nominated for a Best Actress Oscar she seems destined to win; also nominated are Sally Hawkins for Best Supporting Actress, and Woody Allen for his screenplay. I know To Rome With Love was a dud, but this one is pretty great.

All Is Lost

Writer/director J.C. Chandor, who made an acclaimed debut with the financial thriller Margin Call, tackles material here that could hardly be further from his last picture’s claustrophobic offices and conference rooms.

Robert Redford plays a sailor who discovers that, while he was sleeping, his boat struck a shipping container, and there’s a hole in the hull. All alone and miles from help, he spends the next several days trying everything possible to survive.

Wesley Morris: “In rooting for this man to endure, you aren’t hoping for the survival of a single star. You’re praying for something greater to last, for an entire mode of being in the movies to persist. When Redford and [Michael] Douglas and Clint Eastwood go, all won’t be lost. But something great and crucial to the pleasures of the movies will be.”

Runner Runner

Remember a few years ago when everyone was playing poker all the time? That might have been a better moment to release a thriller about online gambling.

Justin Timberlake plays Richie, a graduate student (!) at Princeton (!!) trying to fund his tuition  by gambling online. When he figures out that the site cleaned him out because someone cheated, he confronts the site’s owner, Ivan (Ben Affleck!), ends up getting offered a job, and falls into an affair with Ivan’s ex (Gemma Arterton). But the FBI has its eye on Ivan and they want Richie to inform on him and blah blah yawn.

Wesley Morris: “With some thrillers, you can tell everybody’s lying. It’s not because the writing says everybody’s lying! It’s because that’s what the acting is saying. In Runner Runner, it looks like everybody’s lying, and that’s only because the acting is pretty bad.”

In a World …

Ever wondered how movie trailers are made? How it seems like the narration is always done by one of four or five guys? Why it’s virtually never a woman? So has Lake Bell! She wrote, directed, and stars in In a World …, playing Carol, a vocal coach and aspiring voice-over artist who’s learned a lot from her father, Sam, a legend in the field. Sam’s semi-retirement seems to open the door for Carol to get a shot at doing the voice-over on the trailer for an upcoming Hunger Games–esque film … but it’s the most sought after gig in the business, so she’s up against lots of seasoned competition.

For a debut film, In a World … is as assured as it is funny. Bell calls on several past costars (Ken Marino, Rob Corddry, others whose identities I won’t spoil) and gives the story lots of nerdy inside-Hollywood detail. This was one of my favorite comedies last year, so watch it and help make sure Bell gets the chance to make another one.